Lucky Peak, Part 1

Update 9/8/10: some more photos. Caught a Flammulated owl 6 days ago, and haven't caught anything since. Can't wait until the season picks up. Getting sick of empty nets, but i guess there are perks... like this kestrel, and these views.
American Kestrel (female)
Boise mountains

Update: i got to hold a cooper's hawk yesterday. cool.
The hawk-trapping setup. A bunch of mist nets, bow nets, drop-nets, and lure-pigeons-in-harnesses, all of which overlooks the Boise mountains.
Wake up, go down the hill in your pajamas, and chill with a Cooper's hawk. I'm getting paid for this?


I’m in Boise! Actually, I’m looking down at Boise from Lucky Peak, site of the Idaho Bird Obsevatory (IBO), where I am working until Haloween. I’ve been here a week so far, and am acclimating to the West (and the elevation- 5,900 ft!). The air is thin enough to remind me of my sub-par aerobic endurance. It’s the driest part of the year, and lightning strikes ignite small brushfires all across the valley, occasionally filling the sky with a smoky haze. Below, fire planes and helicopters douse the fires as fast as they crop up. The air is dry, dry, dry and my lips are constantly chapped despite the Carmex and Blistex I keep applying.

I am one of two fall migration owl banders here. We target Flammulated Owls, a west-coast specialty, and Northern Saw-whet Owls, a favorite from back east. Lucky Peak Is unusual in being literally the very last patch of forest along the Boise mountain range before a long expanse of sagebrush desert. As a result, birds funnel into our pocket of woodland from all points north, and fuel up for the next leg of their overland migration. During the night, the IBO targets migrating forest owls by luring them into nets with a big speaker contraption that broadcasts owl calls. During the day, the IBO targets southbound songbirds and raptors. There is a crew here of about a dozen, living in tents on the hillside, and every day were band about 50 songbirds and about a dozen raptors. Hawk watchers perch in lawn chairs on the peak, tallying the different species of raptors that are migrating past. At night, my partner and I run the owl nets, rounding out the nearly 24/7 schedule of bird research that goes on here. So far, I’ve seen golden eagles, handled coopers hawks, and brushed up on extracting songbirds from mist nests. I’m convinced that songbird banders are shoe-ins as bomb defusers or brain surgeons.

This is a remarkable place to study birds, and a great opportunity for me to learn about the western avifauna. The IBO is also somewhat unique in actively publishing their data in scientific journals, and many organizations, like Idaho Game and Fish, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service, use information from the IBO in their conservation goals. Other banding stations I have worked at leave me questioning whether it is worth compromising bird safety to collect this kind of data. Fortunately, the IBO has the safest protocols I have yet encountered, and their data is so widely used that the data from every capture impacts conservation and improves our knowledge of bird migration. On top of that, over 1,000 people are scheduled to visit in September, and public education is a key part of the IBO mission.

We haven’t caught any owls yet (its still early in the season, and we’ve been fussing with our net setup for a couple days now), but I’ll be posting pictures of this place and its birds soon! 

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